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2017: A Year Of Reading In Review

Reading is something I used to do constantly.  And then somewhere, I stopped making the time for it, and have been determined in recent years to make an effort to make it my default habit again.  To that end, last year I decided to try and track the books I read, and periodically discuss them.

Unfortunately, after just one post, in January, I fell behind on writing about the books, and then in May I got very busy and ended up both not reading as much as I’d planned and also stopped tracking the books.  After which, I never picked up logging again.

So I’ve reconstructed what I can from my memory, but my memory being what it is, I can’t be sure what I’ve missed. So that puts my total at 48. That includes quite a few comic book collections. 1

The following highlights are taken from a series of prompts from my friend Jessica F. Hebert.2

 First book of 2017: “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helpin
This is my favourite novel, and an annual re-read. This would mark the 30th or so time I’ve read it, and it was magical as always. I was once asked, after listing it as my favourite novel, what it was about, and I summed it thusly:

“It’s a story about love. It’s a story about the love of passion, the love of seasons, the love of family, and the love of place. It’s a story about justice, and transcendence, and redemption. It’s a story about seeking, and wanting, and needing. It’s a story about what changes, and what never changes, and the bridge between the two. It’s a story about magic, and reality, and about the wall of clouds that separate one from the other and then weave them together as tightly as the threads in a tapestry.

But more than anything, it’s the story of a city, and the story of a girl, and the story of a man, and the story of a horse.”

Last book of 2017: “The Design Of Everyday Things” by Donald A Norman
This is a classic text that dissects the elements of design that factor into every single thing we touch and interact with, and the psychology behind how that design works, or in many cases, entirely fails to work. I’ve heard of this book for years, but never got around to reading it, and when i came across a reference to it I ordered it on a whim. Terrific read.3

Book I couldn’t shut up about: “A Colony In A Nation” by Chris Hayes
This is the book I’ve most recommended over the course of the year. It’s an examination of race relations in the US, and I think it’s very much worth the time to sit and digest it. Chris Hayes is one of the smarter people working in journalism right now, and I’ve been a big fan of his work since back when he was still writing for The Nation.

Most devastating book: “Crash Override” by Zoe Quinn
In many ways, GamerGate was the canary in the coal mine of our national discourse that warned us all that something very ugly was not just brewing but bubbling over. Quinn’s account of her experience as the original target of the harassment campaign is chilling to read, and it made me angry all over again at the entire fiasco. It does include some constructive thoughts towards the end, where Quinn details the activism she’s been working on to help others who have been targeted, and some suggestions towards making the Internet a better, safer place for everyone.

Book my friends all liked that I finally read and…didn’t: No entry.
The only book I read that I’d had hanging around my to-do list for ages was “Ready Player One”, by Earnest Cline, but I quite liked it. While it does have some problematic elements, it’s a popcorn book, and I consumed it as such.

Book my friends didn’t like that I finally read and…did: “Aftermath” by Chuck Wendig
The Aftermath trilogy was one of the first major Star Wars novels to come out after Disney announced they were rebranding the old Expanded Universe as “Legends” and that all future Star Wars novels and comics would be considered part of the “canon” of the Star Wars universe.4    And the response to them was largely negative, so I didn’t really drop everything I was doing to read them. But while on a cruise to Alaska this summer, I found a copy of the first book in the trilogy in the ships library, and lacking for something breezy and fun to read, I took it back to my room and started on it.   And quite honestly, I enjoyed them thoroughly.  The first book is a bit slow to start, and Wendig’s present-tense prose style takes some getting used to. 5  But the characters are wonderful, and there’s some terrific stories there filling out what was going on immediately after the destruction of the Second Death Star.

From here, I went on to read several more recent Star Wars novels, all of which I’ve enjoyed, and a couple of which6 were superb.

Most read author: Ryan North and Erica Henderson
North and Henderson are  the writer and artist responsible for the Marvel comic “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl”, of which I read five volumes all in a row while spending a lovely weekend of isolation and natural splendor at Lake Crescent.  I am an unabashed fan of Squirrel Girl, who never fails to delight me.

Best surprise:  “Tove Jansson: Work and Love” by Tuula Karjalainen
I’ve been a fan of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books since I was a child, and I first read “The Adventures of Moominpapa”.7  They are books I continually return to and reread, and the whimsy and magic of those stories are something I always want to make room for in my life.   But despite this, I really didn’t know a lot about Jansson herself, and when I saw a notice of this biography, I ordered it.  It was a tremendous read, and I learned a lot about an author I already greatly admired.

Works I’m Looking Forward to in 2018:
I haven’t really looked ahead to see what’s on the horizon. On the comics front, I’m greatly looking forward to the first collection Gail Simone and Cat Stagg’s “Crosswind”, which is coming out in March. And I have the short story collection “Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View” sitting on the top of my to-read pile, waiting for me to finish what I’m currently reading, which is “Mad Men: Carousel”, which is a series of critical essays by Matt Zoller Seitz about the TV series “Mad Men” that I’ve been meaning to get around to since it came out.

In any event, I’m looking to keep better track this year, and to make more periodic updates like I planned to do last year.  Onward and upward.

  1. I’m only including collected paperbacks of comics, because honestly that’s the only way I buy them anymore. 

  2. Upon whose Facebook post this entry was originally a comment upon. 

  3. I was reading “The Holy Or The Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of ‘Hallelujah'”, but I didn’t finish it until today, so it goes on the 2018 list. 

  4. I have some extended thoughts on this subject that are the subject of a future essay I’m writing.  Watch this space. 

  5. I admit I normally hate this particular technique, but honestly, by midway through the first book I’d stopped noticing it entirely. 

  6. “Phasma” by Delilah S. Dawson and “Thrawn” by Timothy Zahn 

  7. A few years ago, I recorded a substantial portion of an audiobook of this novel, as a gift to one of my girlfriends at the time, who was also a huge Jansson fan.  I never finished it, but I keep meaning to 


Lo, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Livejournal
I shall fear no spoilers; for thou art finished;
Thy series and thy ending, they satisfy me.

Which is to say….stayed up Way Too Late™ last night finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Thoughts later.

The Weekly Reader

Well, i haven’t gotten back into my daily habits yet, but I have managed to at least pick up a book more often than in the previous few weeks.

  • The Legion of Super-Heroes Archive Volume 5 (DC Comics)

    Continuing to work though the LSH archives, I found the stories trying to pick up a bit as we get firmly into the Jim Shooter era. Shooter is, of course, one of those legendary success stories that all of us dream about: he sold his first story to DC when he was thirteen and made such an impression that he was invited to write for the book regularly afterwards. The biggest improvement of his writing over previous LSH fare was his ability to write a group of teenager who actually sound like teenagers of their day.

    The plots are still silly, but I started seeing a little bit more variety here, and started to see a bit more of the spark of “early legion” that everyone talks about when they rhapsodize about this era of the title. Very enjoyable.

  • Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson

    I absolutely adore Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, and have been idly recollecting them as I happen across them. deidrecorwyn handed this one back to me along with a small stack of books of mine she had unearthed from her recent move that she was sure belonged to me, so I picked it off the shelf to re-read.

    To be honest, I adore this one a little less than the other two that I still have in my collection, though I don’t think the fault is really Jansson’s. Elizabeth Portch translated this one, and the other two were translated by Thomas Warburton, who has a better ear for Jansson’s whimsical characters, and has a lighter touch with phrasing that really makes them dance. Portch does an adequate job, but it doesn’t sparkle as much as some of the other Moomin stories.

    Having said that, what a delightful read! I neither have nor intend to have children of my own, and I have very few regrets about that decision, but one of the few I have is that I won’t have as many opportunities to read these stories outloud to a young person hearing them for the first time. I think I must remember to take them with me the next time we visit Don and Dina, or better yet, find a set of them that I can take and leave with little Kailyn and Connor.

    If you love good, whimsical children’s literature, and have never read the Moomin books, do yourself a favour and go grab one now. My personal favourite is “Moominpappa’s Memoirs” (which I read originally under the title “The Adventures of Moominpappa”).

Back to Reading

Boy, it’s been a long time since I updated my reading. The main reason for this, unfortunately, is that I haven’t been reading much for the last couple of months, as I’ve been caught up in other pursuits. So a couple of weeks ago, I started carving out a bit more time for reading.

  • Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb
    This is a book that people in fandom either adore or despise, depending on how comfortable they are with being poked fun at. While McCrumb’s caricatures are, in most cases, over the top, and in a few cases unfair, this is still an amusing romp. And I still love the moment when touring Scottish folksinger Donnie McRory discovers the filkers, starts to play “Wild Rover” for them, and after hearing the first line they belt out, stops and exclaims with outrage, “What’s all that rubbish, then? Have ye been monkeying about with the words??”

    I read this book when it first came out back in 1986 or so, and still enjoy revisiting it from time to time. It has a sequel, Zombies Of The Gene Pool, but unfortunately there are further books about Jay Omega after that one that I am aware of.

  • The Legion Of Super-Heroes Archive Volume 1 (DC Comics)
    The Legion Of Super-Heroes Archive Volume 2 (DC Comics)
    The Legion Of Super-Heroes Archive Volume 3 (DC Comics)
    The Legion Of Super-Heroes Archive Volume 4 (DC Comics)

    When I was a kid, Legion of Super Heroes was one of my favourite comics. Of course, this was in the early 80s during the Levitz/Giffen period when I started reading the title, and it was only through the occasional reprints that I ever saw any of the early days of the group.

    Recently, while I was over at khaosworks apartment to bring him to Atlanta in preparation for his flight home for the summer, I asked him if I could borrow some of his Legion collections, and he loaned me the first six volumes of DC’s Archive editions. These contain all the Legion stories from their introduction in Superboy back in 1958 up through about 1968-69 or so, i believe. And I’ve slowly been working my through them.

    To be honest….as much as I love what the Legion became, and as much as I can see the flashes of that future here and there…a lot of these stories are terrible. Maybe I’d have felt differently if I was a kid in 1963 reading them for the first time, and maybe my adult taste for the sort of thing that Vertigo comics publishes have spoiled me from more innocent Mort Weisinger fare, but gosh…

    Most early Legion stories fall into one of four broad plots:

    1) Someone attempts to join the legion but is rejected, so they vow horrible revenge for being spurned.
    2) Someone attempts to join the Legion and his accepted, but is secretly working to destroy the group.
    3) A member of the Legion behaves in a totally out-of-character manner for some reason (often inadequately explained), leading to conflict within the group.
    4) A mysterious villain appears, possessing just the right sort of powers to counter and disable every single member of the group, even though each of them has a distinctly different power.

    Sometimes, just for fun, 2 or more of these 4 basic plots were combined together.

    To be fair, these were written over 40 years ago for an entirely different sensibility (and for a much younger prospective reader). Some of it is just typical Weisingerian melodramatic nonsense that grates on my nerves in large doses. And of course, these stories were backup features in Adventure comics and spread across several months originally, and suffer a bit for being read in large chunks anyway.

    And even though I pick them apart, and shake my head over them as I read them, they’re still a lot of fun, because I know that about 15 years from the time these were written, they will turn into the comics I read and loved when I was 10.

    Very enjoyable if you’re especially interested in the early history of the LSH, or just like reading Silver Age comics.

Reading Report

Haven’t updated book progress lately because, honestly, I hadn’t been reading that much the last two weeks, between a couple of projects I was working on and maedbh7‘s visit, but I have gotten through a couple of books since last time I reported.

  • War For The Oaks by Emma Bull

    Every now and then, you just want to go back to a favourite, and this is easily one of my favourite books ever written, ever ever. I’m a big fan of all of Bull’s work: she has a great ear for dialogue, and crafts characters who are so real I feel like I know them. I’ve probably read WftO a dozen times, and it still feels fresh and new each time. If you’re a fan of “modern world fantasy”, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

  • Zen And the Art of Travel by Eric Chaline

    When making plans for tourism and trips, I always warn people that I’m a “Zen tourist”. I don’t like scheduling myself overmuch, preferring to following the path in front of me and seeing where it goes. So when kitanzi saw this book, she couldn’t resist getting it for me. I had expected it to be just a collection of Zen quotes and pretty pictures, but the book was evenly divided between said pictures and quotes, travel stories, and practical tips for traveling to odd and remote places. A wonderful, fascinating little book that took me twice as long to read as I anticipated, and left me feeling much richer (and with an itching desire to go somewhere) than when I started.

Weekly Reading

Almost entirely fiction this week, although I have been dipping in and out of Harlan Ellison’s Watching, a collection of film essays. More on that when I actually finish it.

  • Newton’s Cannon by J. Gregory Keyes
    This is a book I’ve been trying to read for quite some time, but odd circumstances always seemed to keep me from it. I’m glad I finally got a chance to make it through. Keyes has imagined a rather bizzare alternate history, where Isaac Newton has discovered the secret of alchemy, Louis XIV has achieved immortality through a strange Persian elixir, and young Ben Franklin stumbles upon an international plot of intrigue that threatens to destroy England. There are odd historical and literary figures dropped here and there throughout the novel, and an ending that I absolutely did not expect. There are three more books in the series, and the first installment makes no pretense to standing alone, so I suppose I’ll have to wait until I read the next three to truly evaluate the story. It’s a page turner though, and I enjoyed Keyes’s imaginings a great deal.

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman
    One of the problems with having fallen out of the habit of reading on a regular basis is that books I would have normally read the moment I bought them lay untouched for months. Such was the case with Neil Gaiman’s delightfully spooky young adult novel Coraline.

    Coraline is a bright, bored young girl with a broad imagination and loving if inattentive parents and an assortment of weird neighbors. But something mysterious is lurking on the other side of the big door in the living room that opens on a blank wall…or does it? She soon discovers a mirror world on the other side of the door, populated by beings claiming to be her Other Mother and Other Father, and it will take her ingenuity and perseverance to set her life back the way it was.

    This is just as wonderful quirky as Gaiman’s best work always did, and my enjoyment of the book was doubled by the fact that, with her peculiar combination of contrary whimsy and earnest practicality, I couldn’t help but picture our heroine as a young nrivkis. 🙂 Highly recommended. Read it to your kids.

  • Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
    Another book I had been neglecting, Paladin of Souls is the sequel to Bujold’s fantasy novel The Curse of Chalion. I love the setting and the characters of this world, and I grew to quickly like Ista, the reluctant recipient of the gods’ favours. Bujold’s talent for breathing life into her three dimensional characters is in great evidence here, the dialog is crisp and the plot is a page turner. Of course, the centerpiece of the book, as it was in the previous, is the odd, intricate cosmology of Chalion’s gods. Paladin of Souls is, ultimately, that rarest of all novels: a sequel that is at least the equal of it’s original. I am looking forward to Bujold’s continued efforts on this series.

Weekly Reader

So what’s been off my shelf this last week?

  • The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire by John Christopher

    When I finished The White Mountains a couple of weeks ago, I was somewhat frustrated because I was missing the second book in the trilogy. So I went to and ordered a copy. When it came, I immediately jumped back into the world of Will and Henry and Beanpole as they struggled against the domination of the Tripods.

    These are pretty brisk reads, and I must admit that there’s a lot of things that the older reader in me would love to have seen addressed in more detail, and some odd science here and there. But the story is just as good as when I was a kid, and the ending still leaves me with a touch of sadness. I hope that in the end, the people of Earth do manage to get their act together.

  • Sir Apropos of Nothing by Peter David

    Peter David is one of my favourite people writing in comics, and I had enjoyed some of his previous forays into prose fiction, so I was looking forward to this book. It turned out to be very satisfying, although I wasn’t sure at first if it was going to be. The first quarter of the books concerns itself with our protagonist’s ignoble birth and upbringing, and somewhere in those two hundred pages I began to wonder if David had set out to try and write an engaging fantasy novel without a single likable character in it. Once we catch back up with the present, however (the exposition is told via a lengthy flashback), the story gets seriously underway, and it’s very hard to put down. Despite the fact that Apropos whines too much, you do start to pull for him towards the end, and I commend David for resisting the urge to wrap it up with a cliche happy ending. If you like anti-heroes and atrocious puns, this may be a book you’ll enjoy.

Who’s your favourite anti-hero?

Reading report

It’s been a while since I reported. I didn’t manage to make the time for reading over the weekend that I had planned, and a earlier in the week various other projects ate into my reading time.

  • I finally finished A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson’s wonderful layman’s overview of the current state of scientific knowledge. The structure of the book starts with an overview of what we know about the universe at large, then focuses on the history of the planet, and finally on the evolution of life on the planet, going from the widest possible perspective down to the very narrowest. Definitely worth a read if you’re at all interested in science or the history of science, and especially if you are not in fact a scientist yourself — Bryson’s prose style is conversational and very accessible.
  • Winterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold
    This is actually one of six stories in a collection called Irresistible Forces, which is some sort of SF/Romance crossover. I’m a huge fan of Bujold, so I had to get this as soon as possible — it was the first thing I picked up in the Boskone dealers room.

    This story is part of the Miles Vorkosigan universe and covers the period of his marriage to Ekaterin, but the story actually focuses on two minor characters, Armsman Roic, last seen slipping and sliding through gallons of bugbutter in his underwear in A Civil Campaign and Sergeant Taura, the genetically engineered soldier that Miles rescued from Jackson’s Whole in Labyrinth

    It was obvious early in the story where it was going, but it was an awful lot of fun watching it unfold. As kitanzi pointed out, it’s like really good fanfic, except in this case it’s actually written by the author herself.

    Recommended if you like Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. For those who like LMB’s writing but cannot stand Miles, I’ll note that he’s almost a minor character in this, the story of his own wedding.

  • Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
    I’m a huge fan of Terry Pratchett, and at one time had all of his books up to the point where I didn’t anymore. I’ve been recollecting them ever since. So you can imagine my delight when I got a box back in October containing the UK hardback edition of his newest novel, Monstrous Regiment, a joint anniversary gift for me and kitanzi from bardling, filkerdave, and djbp. I promptly set it aside to be read and didn’t get around to it for 5 months (In my defense, I didn’t read much else in those five months either.)

    My loss. Monstrous Regiment is another fine addition to the Discworld canon. Pratchett is one of the few authors I can think of who is 25+ books into a series and keeps getting better. One of the reasons for this, I think, is that he stopped writing broad parody and started writing fairly direct and biting satire. Pratchett is clearly unhappy with a lot of things going on in the world lately, and is using his books to express that.

    This book uses the age-old framework of “girl disguises herself as a boy in order to join the army” plot to send up both gender identification issues and the nature of modern war. The main character, Polly, is quite likeable, and is surrounded by the usual motley crew of irregulars.

    There’s maybe one too many twists at the end, but as a flaw, it’s a small one. While this isn’t probably the best ever Discworld book, it’s certainly one of the better ones.


Well, I didn’t get much reading done last week, for a variety of reasons. I’ve decided that I’m going to set aside one hour every weekday, from 6:30 to 7:30pm, as my designated reading time. I won’t be on the computer or watching TV or listening to music during that hour, for so much as I can help it.

Continued working my way through Bill Bryson’s excellent Short History of Nearly Everything, reading several passages, and indeed one entire chapter, aloud to kitanzi. She’s joked by the time she gets to read the book, which is of interest to you, I’ll have already read most of it to her. 🙂 I’ve got a little less than 150 pages left in it. Also continued with Dan Savage’s Savage Love, which is currently in the bathroom and being read two and three pages at a time.

Saturday, I was in need of comfort reads, and so idly picked up an old favourite, John Christopher’s The White Mountains. This is the first book in the series of novels that the BBC television programme The Tripods was based, though I first encountered it as a serialized comic in Boy’s Life magazine as a kid. I read the entire book in pretty much one sitting, and would probably have continued on to the second book in the series, except that I don’t actually have a copy. Must remember to go check out ABE Books after payday.

As I mentioned elsewhere, telynor gave me a spiffy hardcover copy of Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, which reminds me that it’s been about a year since the last time I read it and I should add it to the queue.

When you’re feeling down, or distressed, or lonely, or out of sorts, what are your favourite comfort reads?

Reading list

So, I’m thinking that if I actually start talking about the books I’m reading, it’ll encourage me to spend more time reading them. I used to read a lot, but in recent years I’ve started spending too much time in front of the computer and not enough time with a book in my hand. Time to fix that.

Currently, I’m in the middle of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, which is one of the most entertaining general overviews of science and the history of science that I’ve ever come across. I really enjoy a genre of non-fiction that I call “anecdotal history”, by which I mean “history told in a nonfiction but entertaining manner”. I also have Kenneth Davis’s “Don’t Know Much About History”, which I’d read before but only recently reacquired.

Last week, I read’s Guide to Sexual Etiquette, which was a marvelously informative book with a droll style. It was slightly different in focus from The Bride Wore Black Leather (And He Looked Fabulous), which is a different sex etiquette book focusing more on altsex than more usual fare. And I’m reading Dan Savage’s Savage Love in pieces. As a collection of columns, its easy to read in small pieces. (What I sometimes refer to as a “bathroom book”).

So, what are YOU reading right now?

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